Hamilton left plan in place for race team to follow

The day before Bobby Hamilton died was a happy one.

"It's emotional and hard, but I feel closest to him here. I know it makes him smile."
-- Lori Hamilton

He rested on the couch at home, watching an Elvis documentary on television, tapping his foot to the beat of the good songs, shaking an ol' ornery finger in disapproval of the ones he didn't like.

He'd battled head and neck cancer for an entire year but was in great spirits. He never lost that dogged determination that had long defined him, never lost hope he'd overcome. Hamilton's gruff exterior concealed a warmth and caring from most folks.

But it was there, deep within. And it was present until the moment he died.

"His spirit never faded," said Lori Hamilton, Bobby Hamilton's wife and chief caregiver throughout his cancer battle. "I didn't realize he'd die that day."

Bobby Hamilton died Jan. 7. He was 49 years old. Throughout the previous year, if he was even remotely physically able, he was at the Bobby Hamilton Racing shop in Mount Juliet, Tenn.

Some days he'd head to the doctor for chemotherapy in the morning and be in the shop that evening. The next day he'd do his best to rest in the morning, then knock off the dust from the chemo and mosey on into work in the afternoon.

Chemo was manageable. Radiation was not.

"Radiation knocked his socks off," Lori said. "It took him a couple months to recover from that."

Still, he worked.

"If he felt good, whether it was for six hours or one hour or eight, he was at the shop," Lori Hamilton said. "If Bobby wasn't at the shop, there were phone calls made to him, conference calls from the shop. People came to the house. He was extremely hands-on.

"A lot of times he wouldn't feel good and I'd bring him to the shop, and in the conference room we put a couch and a recliner, and he'd sit there and the guys would come in and talk to him. Most people would be in the bed. He'd say, 'Take me to my couch at the race shop.'"

As his battle with cancer worsened, the trips were less frequent. But that didn't mean he wasn't running the show. In December, from home, Lori Hamilton said her husband made the decision to replace crew chief Danny Gill with Jeff White.

"He was hands-on up until about three weeks before he died," she said.

Now the team is focused on 2007. Factory-backed by Dodge Motorsports, BHR will field a pair of trucks, and has pieced together a four-man management team, hand-picked by Hamilton before his death. They will announce that group formally during Speed Weeks at Daytona.

Two weeks ago, in announcing his departure from Bobby Hamilton Racing, Bobby Hamilton Jr. blasted the team, saying he'd "washed his hands and dried them of it -- and I'm worried about myself."

Hamilton Jr. also spoke heatedly about those currently running BHR, saying "there's people involved in it now that I just don't like, period. I don't like how it was run and I don't like where it's going."

Lori Hamilton, who married Bobby Hamilton on Sept. 29, 2006, said those words were directed at her.

"He's taking a stab at me," she said. "But the person who is ultimately overseeing operations is Lois."

Lois Vance is the executor and trustee of Bobby's will.

"She's a longtime friend of his, and his banker," Lori said. "She met with Bobby on numerous occasions and he went over how he wanted it to be, both personally and in his business."

Lori Hamilton said all she and the team can do is wish Bobby Jr. the best.

"I was with Bobby for a while, and I know how much he loved his son, and how much Bobby Jr. loved his dad," Lori Hamilton said. "All his dad ever wanted [for Bobby Jr.] was success, and that's all I can wish him, too."

On they trudge.

"This place is smooth sailing right now," Lori said. "It's fun again. Lois spoke with Bobby regarding who he wanted where, and it's going very well. Bobby left a plan in place, months out. That plan is what we're pushing through."

All at BHR miss Hamilton dearly, and it's no surprise where they feel closest to him.

"You feel him here at the shop, definitely. This is where I feel closest to Bobby," Lori said. "You live in a house, but when you work on a race team, you spend more time at the shop than you do at home."

Hamilton was famous for plopping down in the middle of the shop floor and just sitting, keeping a watchful eye on all facets of his team. He built that shop. It was his pride. He spent every waking minute on-site until he was too sick to come.

"The day that we buried Bobby, the [crew] guys had to take turns to come to the funeral home," Lori said. "They had to come back to work. That's what Bobby would have wanted. About 10 [p.m.], I brought a cake over.

"I was so tired, but I needed to feel him. I knew if those guys were here, Bobby would be here. We just sat around and ate cake. We just want the company to move forward. Everybody is in position and we want to do it -- not with Bobby, but for him.

"It's emotional and hard, but I feel closest to him here. I know it makes him smile."

Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.